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ɴ ı ɢ ʜ ᴛ ᴇ ᴄ ʜ ɵ s ☄ Chapter 3

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ɴ ı ɢ ʜ ᴛ ᴇ ᴄ ʜ ɵ s ☄ Chapter 3

Post by Ivyshade-Admin on Tue Apr 09, 2013 4:42 pm


Night Echoes


Allegiances:

ShadowClan: Leader: Graystar: Dark gray tom with amber eyes
Deputy: Breezeclaw: Gray-and-white she-cat with green eyes
Medicine Cat: Almondwhisker: Pale brown tabby she-cat with amber eyes
Warriors: Creekfur: Dark gray-brown tom (apprentice, Swiftpaw)
Darkpelt: Black tom with one white paw; golden eyes
Mushroomnose: Cream-furred she-cat with amber eyes
Graniteclaw: Black, gray, and white speckled tom (apprentice, Ashpaw)
Redleaf: Reddish tabby she-cat with green eyes (apprentice, Whitepaw)
Flamefoot: Dark ginger tom with white paws and green eyes
Mossystone: Gray-black tabby she-cat with blue eyes (apprentice, Moosepaw)
Reedtail: Ginger tom with a long, flowing tail; amber eyes
Eagletalon: Golden brown tabby-tom; green eyes
Pineface: Pale gray tabby-tom with darker stripes (apprentice, Juniperpaw)
Dewspots: Dark gray tom with white splotches (apprentice, Honeypaw)
Whiskerwind: Pale grayish-white tom with long whiskers and pale yellow eyes
Leopardheart: Golden she-cat with dark ginger spots; amber eyes
Nettledrift: Gray, brown, and white-patched tom; blue eyes
Apprentices: Swiftpaw: Pale gray tom with white paws, muzzle, and tail; blue eyes
Ashpaw: Dark gray tom with blue eyes
Whitepaw: White she-cat with green eyes
Moosepaw: Dark brown tabby-tom with a pale brown chest and yellow eyes
Juniperpaw: Pale ginger tabby-tom; amber eyes
Honeypaw: Light ginger-yellow she-cat with green eyes
Queens: Larkshadow: Pale gray she-cat with green eyes; mother of Graniteclaw’s kits, Featherkit, Poppykit, Badgerkit, and Brackenkit
Dawnstorm: Dark reddish-brown she-cat
Elders: Brightwing: Tortoiseshell she-cat with amber eyes
Voletooth: Skinny brown tabby-tom
Smallfoot: Dark gray tom with small paws and blue eyes
Ravensnow: Black-and-white she-cat; retired early due to permanent leg injury

WindClan: Leader: Mousestar: Brown-and-black tabby she-cat
Deputy: Boulderpelt: Gray tom with amber eyes
Medicine Cat: Emberfur: Pale ginger tom with green eyes (apprentice, Oakpaw)
Warriors: Owlfeather: Pale gray-brown tom with green eyes (apprentice, Redpaw)
Stormeyes: Black tom with dark gray-blue eyes (apprentice, Tinypaw)
Leafwhisker: Pale gray tabby she-cat
Tigerfur: Dark ginger tabby she-cat with amber eyes
Yellowfoot: Gray tom with pale ginger paws

ThunderClan: Leader: Cloudstar: Gray-and-white tom with green eyes
Deputy: Quickfoot: Lithe pale ginger she-cat
Medicine Cat: Hareleap: Pale ginger tabby-tom; blue eyes (apprentice, Cliffpaw)
Warriors: Lionpelt: Golden-brown tom with green eyes
Finchwing: Dark brown tabby-tom (apprentice, Wolfpaw)
Beechstripes: White tom with black stripes (apprentice, Patchpaw)
Scarleg: Ginger tabby-tom with a long scar on his haunch
Willowpounce: Cream-colored she-cat

RiverClan: Leader: Shadestar: Black she-cat with amber eyes
Deputy: Longwhisker: Gray she-cat with long whiskers
Medicine Cat: Marshsky: Dark brown tabby-tom
Warriors: Lilypetal: Brown-and-gray tabby she-cat with amber eyes
Streamslope: Silver tabby she-cat with green eyes (apprentice, Runningpaw)
Maplepelt: Ginger tabby-tom
Alderfur: Pale brown tom with amber eyes (apprentice, Birdpaw)
Logclaw: Dark brown-and-black tabby-tom
Prologue

Behind a bank of gently swaying ferns lay a clearing washed with moonlight. The bracken and gorse surrounding it stirred, and a majestic dark gray tom stepped through. He stopped, surveying the open space, and took a few more steps forward. His amber gaze flicked from side to side, as if expecting an enemy to leap out at him.
Across from the gray tom, a beautiful gray-and-white she-cat emerged. Starlight sparkled around her paws and tipped her whiskers.
The gray tom gave a relieved sigh. “Snowspeckle. Good to see you.”
Snowspeckle did not return the friendly greeting. Her blue eyes were shadowed with worry. “Graystar,” she meowed. “I have come with a message.”
At once, Graystar looked eager. “A message? Do you mean a prophecy?”
Snowspeckle nodded, starlight spinning away from her whiskers. She paused and inclined her head. “Yes, a prophecy of what has once come to the forest, and what will come again.”
Graystar’s amber eyes widened with shock.
“The power of three is gone.” Snowspeckle’s voice had taken on a dreamy, faraway quality. “But StarClan was mistaken. The cat with fire in his pelt was not the fourth.” Her blue eyes drilled straight into Graystar. “The fourth cat is coming.”
Graystar took a step back, his eyes widening to round amber orbs.
Snowspeckle’s head swung around. “This cat will have the power of the stars in her paws.”
Graystar opened his mouth to speak, but no sound came out as the StarClan cat vanished into the undergrowth without even a trace of her starry paw prints.
“Wait!” Graystar let out a desperate yowl, finally regaining control of his tongue. “Snowspeckle! Don’t go!”
The she-cat’s words still echoed in his ears. The power of three is gone. But StarClan was mistaken. The cat with fire in his pelt was not the fourth. The fourth cat is coming.
Graystar narrowed his golden eyes. What destiny lies in wait for my Clan?





Chapter 1

Pale newleaf sunlight filtered between branches of gorse bristling with broad leaves. Gentle snoring filled the cozy space, twining through the air like the steady birdsong that the warm weather brought with it. Curled up next to a pale gray queen were four kits, their flanks rising and falling rhythmically, in time with their mother’s.
One of the kits, Poppykit, raised her head sleepily. The fur on one side of her face clung to her cheek while on the other side, the fur bushed out, kit-soft and fluffy, giving her a lopsided look. She blinked bright green eyes and stretched out in the moss. Her jaws parted slightly to reveal gleaming white teeth and a small pink tongue that protruded from her curled black lip.
But, however hard she tried, Poppykit couldn’t get back to sleep. She sat up and yawned, her hind leg jabbing a littermate in the flank.
A pale gray she-kit, disturbed by Poppykit’s paw, blearily raised her head, blinking cloudy blue eyes. “Why’d you wake me up? I was dreaming about chasing a frog, and I was leaping forward to get it…”
“Sorry, Featherkit,” Poppykit apologized. The inclined her head as her sister’s blue gaze met hers. Even though she knew that Featherkit was blind, it was still odd seeing her cloudy eyes and unfocused gaze.
Poppykit shrugged it off with a flourish of her ginger-and-white tail. “Want to go outside?”
Behind them, their mother, Larkshadow, stirred, her eyes opening into twin green slits. “Don’t go far,” she murmured.
Poppykit started. She had thought her mother had been asleep. “We won’t,” she promised, scrambling out of the nursery entrance. Featherkit followed, slipping on a smooth leaf and flopping unceremoniously to the ground.
“Blind mole,” Poppykit teased. At once, she wished she could suck the words right back into her mouth. She had momentarily forgotten about her sister’s blindness; the teasing would appear inconsiderate and rude.
Featherkit’s hackles rose, and she curled her lip in a snarl. “What did you just call me?”
“I didn’t mean it!” Poppykit protested, but Featherkit was already storming away, her paws pounding against the ground.
Moosepaw and Juniperpaw, padding into the camp with fresh-kill in their jaws, had to jump aside as Featherkit barged between them. Moosepaw narrowed his eyes, and Juniperpaw curled his lip in a snarl.
“Looks like Blindkit isn’t having a good day,” Juniperpaw commented as he dropped his prey, a starling, onto the fresh-kill pile.
Poppykit bristled, looking rather disconcerted. “Don’t call her Blindkit.”
“I can call her what I want,” Juniperpaw drawled.
Brackenkit and Badgerkit were stumbling from the nursery with eyes still bleary from sleep. At the sight of Poppykit with her tail lashing and fur bushed out, they seemed to wake up.
“What’s the matter?”
“Juniperpaw’s mocking Featherkit,” Poppykit almost wailed.
Moosepaw licked a paw and drew it over his whiskers. “What’re a litter of kits going to do about it?”
Badgerkit leaned towards Poppykit’s ear. “Just ignore them,” he breathed. Poppykit turned her back but couldn’t stop her tail from quivering with indignation. Brackenkit and Badgerkit had started a mock fight, but she found it hard to focus.
The kits’ father, Graniteclaw, padded into the camp with a plump squirrel clamped firmly in his jaws. Ashpaw, Redleaf, and Whitepaw followed behind him, all laden with fresh-kill.
“It’s about time the apprentices had their warrior ceremonies,” Redleaf mewed as she dropped her prey, a frog, onto the fresh-kill pile.
“I’m going to speak with Graystar about the ThunderClan border,” Graniteclaw replied with a twitch of his ears. “I see if I can arrange the warrior ceremonies while I’m at it.”
Poppykit felt excitement fizzling in her paws, despite still feeling unhappy with Moosepaw and Juniperpaw. She wanted to be just like Graniteclaw: courageous, brave, loyal, and skilled.
“I can’t wait till I’m a warrior!” Brackenkit squealed.
“I wonder when our apprentice ceremony is going to be?” Badgerkit mewed with awe.
From outside the apprentices’ den, Moosepaw sniffed. “You’re only three moons old. It’ll be ages before you’ll become ‘paws.”
Poppykit tried her hardest to ignore the arrogant apprentice. She leapt at Badgerkit and bowled him to the ground, clouting her brother around the ears with soft paws. Badgerkit pummeled her belly with churning hind paws.
Poppykit sprang back and feinted to one side, then darted to the other as Badgerkit spun. She aimed a blow and sent the black-and-white tom staggering with a swipe of her forepaw.
Graniteclaw bounded up behind them and steadied the stumbling Badgerkit with a paw. “You’re already as good as the apprentices,” their father purred. “All of you will make great warriors.”
Poppykit felt pride blossom inside her. She owed it to Graniteclaw to be the best warrior she could be. She dropped into a hunting crouch, pulling herself forward like a snake.
Graniteclaw reached out and planted a paw gently on her lashing tail. “Try not to disturb the leaves behind you, or your prey will hear you coming,” he advised.
Poppykit stilled her tail and continued to creep forward. Graniteclaw purred.
“That’s very good,” her father praised. “You’ll be a warrior in no time.”
Brackenkit gazed around the clearing with wide green eyes. “Can we go outside the camp?” he begged.
“You can’t leave the camp until you’re apprentices,” Graniteclaw warned.
Badgerkit barged past them all with a flick of his tail. “I’m going to get something from the fresh-kill pile.”
“Wait for us!” Poppykit hurried to catch up with Brackenkit at her heels. Graniteclaw gave an amused purr and headed for Graystar’s den.
Badgerkit had dragged Graniteclaw’s squirrel from the top of the pile. It was almost as big as he was.
“You’d better plan on sharing that!” Poppykit huffed.
“Of course! This thing’s huge.” Badgerkit finally managed to arrange the squirrel on the soil, its legs splayed out and tail fluffed up by a slight breeze.
None of the kits had noticed their mother’s stealthy approach. The she-cat plucked Badgerkit into the air by his scruff. “Leave the squirrel for some other cat,” she murmured around her mouthful of kit fur. “Graystar’s calling a Clan meeting.”
“Oh!” Brackenkit and Poppykit, each eager to be the first to the Highbranch, raced across the clearing and skidded to a halt behind Ashpaw and Whitepaw. The apprentices stood with their heads high, fur gleaming in the sunlight. Poppykit envied their thick, smooth coats of fur, covering lean muscles.
Graystar was gazing down at the two apprentices. “Today, two new warriors will be named. Ashpaw, Whitepaw, come forward.”
The two young cats paced proudly to the foot of the Highbranch as Graystar leapt down beside them. The leader began with the age-old ritual of naming new warriors.
“I, Graystar, leader of ShadowClan, call upon StarClan to look down on these apprentices. They have trained hard to understand the ways of your noble code, and I commend them to you as warriors in their turn.” The Clan leader fixed Ashpaw and Whitepaw in his riveting golden gaze. “Whitepaw, Ashpaw, do you promise to uphold the warrior code and to protect and defend this Clan, even at the cost of your life?”
“I do.” Ashpaw’s voice rang out clearly.
“I do.” Whitepaw gave a quiet but determined mew.
“Then by the powers of StarClan, I give you your warrior names,” Graystar continued, his eyes reflecting the rising sun. “Whitepaw, from this moment on, you shall be known as Whitefrost. StarClan honors your intelligence and your skill, and we welcome you as a full warrior of ShadowClan.”
Graystar repeated the ritual words to give Ashpaw the name of Ashdust. The Clan began cheering the names of the new warriors with vigor and pride.
“Ashdust! Whitefrost!” Poppykit cheered along with them, leaping to her paws, her tail waving enthusiastically. Their Clanmates, offering praise and congratulations, swarmed the two young warriors.
Poppykit let out a breath of awe. “I can’t wait until it’s our turn.”
She tried to imagine what it would feel like to serve her Clan by hunting and fighting. It must feel great to slash an enemy’s ears, or clamp your paws firmly on prey, knowing that it would later go on the fresh-kill pile to feed hungry cats. Poppykit dropped into a hunting crouch; her eyes narrowed, and she pounced squarely on Brackenkit’s tail.
Her brother sprang up with a yelp. “Ow! Hey, that hurt!”
Poppykit realized that she had unsheathed her claws. She quickly tucked her paws under her. “Sorry,” she apologized meekly. “I didn’t know my claws were out.”
Brackenkit glared at her. “Well, keep your claws sheathed next time.”
Larkshadow gave Poppykit a stern look. “Poppykit, don’t hurt your littermates.”
“But I didn’t mean to!”
“That doesn’t change anything.” Larkshadow gave Brackenkit’s tail a swift lick.
Poppykit dug her claws into the peaty soil beneath her, but her anger faded as she spotted Featherkit approaching her from the camp entrance. Her sister smelled of pines and fresh soil.
“Were you outside the camp?” Poppykit questioned.
Featherkit snorted. “Yeah. So?”
“We’re not allowed outside until we’re apprentices!” Poppykit’s voice dropped to a desperate whisper. “If any of the warriors find out, you’ll be crow-food!”
“They won’t find out.” Featherkit flicked her tail assertively.
Poppykit began to get irritated by her sister’s nonchalant manner. “Just be careful, all right?”
Larkshadow bent down, her green eyes narrowed. “What are you two arguing about?”
For a fleeting moment, panic flashed in Poppykit’s eyes. What would she tell her mother?
“Oh… we were just talking about our favorite kind of prey,” Poppykit stammered.
“That’s not something to be raising your voice about.” Larkshadow glanced sternly down at her two kits, and for a moment, Poppykit thought she saw her mother’s eyes widen slightly. She felt hot and looked at her feet.
“Larkshadow!” Redleaf, Whitefrost, and Mossystone were sitting around the fresh-kill pile, sharing Graniteclaw’s squirrel. “Come join us!”
As her mother padded away to the other warriors, Poppykit decided that StarClan must have taken pity on her. She licked a paw and drew it over her russet-and-black ear, green eyes glinting with anger at her sister.
“Just don’t… do that again, alright?” she spat, but Featherkit was already headed for the nursery. Despite her increased hearing sensibility to make up for her lack of sight, Poppykit still doubted that the gray she-kit had heard her last remark.
Poppykit felt frustration itching at her claws as another patrol left the tunnel of thickly woven gorse branches, bristling with thorns that intended to keep trespassers out. She couldn’t wait until she was an apprentice so she could explore the territory.
Poppykit tilted her head to one side. Featherkit had left the camp for a while and had come back unnoticed and unscathed. How hard could it be?
Despite shaking her head and attempting to banish the thought, Poppykit knew that she wouldn’t be able to keep her wayward sense of curiosity from leading her out of the camp. She crouched and made her way to the barrier of bramble and overhanging boughs from pine trees that surrounded the camp. Nobody would be able to see her russet, black, and white pelt in the jumble of dappled shadows and swaying leaves. Using the dark recesses of the barrier for cover, Poppykit crept around to the camp entrance. Dewspots was on guard at the bramble tunnel, his ears pricked to listen for approaching danger.
Poppykit waited, crouching on the smooth layer of pine needles, hardly breathing. Her tail twitched impatiently, willing Dewspots to leave, but she stilled it. Finally, the gray-and-white tom rose. Poppykit could hear his paw steps getting softer, and she knew that he was patrolling the camp walls.
She took a few more hesitant steps forward, eyeing a thick clump of low-growing grass. She darted forward, paws skimming the ground, not stopping until she reached the shelter of the reeds. Heart pounding in her chest, Poppykit turned doubtfully. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.
It was too late to go back now. Dewspots had returned to his post by the camp entrance, head swiveling to and fro and amber eyes scanning the undergrowth. As his glittering gaze passed over the clump of grass that sheltered Poppykit, she suddenly felt afraid that the warrior would spot her.
Poppykit took a slow step backwards, then turned and ran. She skidded to a stop once she was sure that Dewspots couldn’t see her anymore, panting.
Undergrowth rustled and paws pattered over earth. Poppykit froze. Voices drifted through the air and reached her ears.
“I caught a really fast frog,” one voice boasted.
“Creekfur said he had never seen a sparrow bigger than mine,” a second countered.
Poppykit’s heart pounded desperately in her chest. Blood roared in her ears. That’s Honeypaw and Swiftpaw!
She turned and dropped into a crouch, edging back to the shelter of a bramble thicket. The barbs smelled strongly of toadstools; with any luck, the two apprentices would pass by without noticing her.
Chattering like starlings, Swiftpaw and Honeypaw bounded past Poppykit’s bramble bush. Poppykit forgot to breath as Honeypaw’s tail brushed against the thorns.
After what seemed like an eternity, the two young cats disappeared into a bank of ferns. Poppykit let out a long breath and climbed out of the bush, dusting cobwebs from her pelt. As a fox barked somewhere in the forest, her heart thudded even harder.
The bark sounded again, closer this time. The sound of paws thudding on the peaty soil sent shudders down Poppykit’s spine.
A russet muzzle protruded from the undergrowth. Dripping teeth, coated in saliva, gleamed behind the reddish fur. The fox gave a wild caterwaul and sprang forward. Poppykit crouched as the fox reared above her with another chilling yowl.
Wait a moment… that’s not right. The howl was not that of the fox’s. Poppykit recognized the voice in a flash.
Graniteclaw! Her father burst from the undergrowth, his claws unsheathed and gleaming in the sunlight. Nettledrift, Darkpelt, Mushroomnose, and Eagletalon followed at his heels.
The fox spun quicker than Poppykit had ever imagined it could move, but Mushroomnose was waiting for it. The she-cat wielded a clawed paw and swiped at the fox’s nose. The russet-furred creature yelped in shock as Darkpelt and Nettledrift attacked it in a flurry of paws. Blood spattered the ground as the fox turned and fled.
Eagletalon towered over Poppykit. “What are you doing out of camp?”
Poppykit sighed ruefully. She would be punished, no doubt about that. Perhaps escaping from the camp wasn’t as easy as Featherkit had made it seem to be.


Chapter 2

Poppykit felt a small paw jab her flank. “Poppykit! Are you a dormouse?”
Poppykit blinked open brilliant green eyes. Brackenkit was prodding her awake.
“Graystar called a Clan meeting,” the golden-brown kit informed her. Poppykit shoved her nose between her paws.
“I want to go back to sleep.” Ever since a fox outside of the camp had almost caught her, she had been looked after most vigilantly. Larkshadow hardly ever took her eyes off of her daughter, and Poppykit was to help the apprentices with elder duties as a punishment.
“Oh, come on.” Brackenkit nudged her again. “It’s really nice out in the clearing.”
Poppykit pretended not to feel the soothing newleaf breeze that stroked the nursery’s outer cover. “Fine, fine. Keep your fur on.” She gave her pelt a quick grooming before padding out into the clearing, her eyes bleary from sleep. Graystar had mounted the Highbranch and was speaking to the cats below.
“Today is the day that apprentices will be named,” Graystar announced. “Poppykit, Badgerkit, Brackenkit, and Featherkit have been with us for six moons. Come forward, kits.”
Poppykit could hardly believe her ears. She staggered to the foot of the Highbranch on wobbly legs. Her heart thudded in her chest as Graystar leapt down beside her.
“From this day on, you are an apprentice, Poppypaw. Your mentor will be Leopardheart.” The golden spotted she-cat came forward, weaving through the throng on graceful paws to touch noses with Poppypaw.
Graystar moved on to give Brackenpaw to Whiskerwind and Badgerpaw to Flamefoot. Poppypaw felt curiosity sparkling inside of her. Graystar would have to be careful choosing Featherkit’s mentor; the cat he chose would have to be able to cope with a blind apprentice.
“Nettledrift, you will be Featherpaw’s mentor,” Graystar went on. “I trust you to be patient with her and teach her all you know.”
Poppypaw nodded in approval. Nettledrift was a good choice; the tom was caring and even-tempered. He could handle Featherpaw well.
The Clan began cheering the names of the new apprentices. “Featherpaw! Badgerpaw! Brackenpaw! Poppypaw!”
Poppypaw let out a joyful trill. Leopardheart seemed pleased, too; the she-cat puffed out her chest a little.
“I’ll take you on a tour of the territory first,” she meowed. “You’ll have your first hunting lesson tomorrow.”
“Oh, good!” Poppypaw bounced on her toes, then stopped as she heard Moosepaw and Juniperpaw whispering nearby.
“I can’t believe this,” Moosepaw hissed.
“Yeah,” Juniperpaw added. “She escapes from the camp, and then Graystar makes her an apprentice?”
Poppypaw’s claws itched with anger, but Leopardheart was calling her to the camp entrance. “Come on, Poppypaw. We don’t have all day.”
Poppypaw stomped out of the entrance, but immediately forgot her temper. She had been too set on not getting discovered when she had slipped out of camp that she had never taken time to marvel at the beauty of ShadowClan’s territory. Tall pines stretched above them, blanketing the ground with needles. In a few places, Poppypaw looked up to snatch glances of bright blue sky dotted with puffy clouds. Gorse and bramble bushes dotted the flat land, and Poppypaw breathed in the scent of fresh, growing newleaf fronds.
Leopardheart stopped and flicked her tail towards a narrow copse of pines. The trunks thinned out, revealing crumbling gray stone that looked as if it had once been arranged in a solid wall.
“That’s an old Twoleg nest,” Leopardheart explained. “It used to be solid, but it’s collapsing now. Rainwater drips into a ditch at the bottom and attracts lots of lizards and frogs, so it’s a great place for hunting.”
Poppypaw inclined her head. “Will we hunt today?”
“Not yet.” Leopardheart led Poppypaw further into the territory. Poppypaw’s paws began to ache as she crested a ridge dotted with pine trees. As she reached the top of the cliff, she was faced with a sweeping landscape of pines and maples that slowly became clogged with ferns, gorse, and brambles. Poppypaw turned to her other side to see ShadowClan’s territory gently slope down towards a ribbon of black rock partly overgrown with weeds. Past the strip of dark, the land was flat and grassy, dotted with clumps of reeds and lined with sparkling streams that parted around triangles of lush, green land. Past the vast, rippling expanse of the lake, rolling moorland hills collided with the horizon, bare except for the occasional clump of heather or gorse.
“Wow,” Poppypaw breathed. “The territories are so big!”
Leopardheart gazed out at the land. “Yes, they are.” She flicked her tail towards the thick plane of brambles and thorns that choked the sharp slopes and flatter land. “That’s ThunderClan territory, over there. RiverClan territory is on our other side.”
Poppypaw narrowed her eyes, straining her vision across the lake to the moorland. “Does WindClan live over there?”
“Yes, but we don’t see them much because we don’t share a border with them.” Leopardheart led her down the edge of the ridge, placing one paw directly in front of the other to keep her balance. Poppypaw’s mentor stopped at the lakeshore, her amber eyes shining in the sunlight.
“This is the lake,” Leopardheart meowed unnecessarily. “Over there is the tree-bridge that the Clans use to get to Gatherings.” Poppypaw gazed at the dark, sodden log that spanned the short bit of water before following her mentor back around the shore and up into ShadowClan territory again.
Leopardheart noted the sandy clearing where apprentices were trained to fight and a fallen tree that was good for hunting mice and voles. She skirted the Thunderpath and the halfbridge, a narrow plank of wet wooden boards that led partway out into the lake and then stopped abruptly. By the time they circled back around to the camp, Poppypaw’s head was spinning and her pads aching.
“Go get something to eat,” Leopardheart advised with a twitch of her ears. “You’ll have your first hunting lesson tomorrow by the fallen pine.”
Poppypaw nodded vigorously, leaving her mentor and joining her littermates by the fresh-kill pile. Brackenpaw and Badgerpaw were sharing a shrew.
“It’s my first catch!” Badgerpaw mewed loudly as Poppypaw approached. She purred.
“I’m having a hunting lesson tomorrow,” she replied. “Hopefully I’ll catch something then.”
“I’m sure you will,” Featherpaw assured her. Poppypaw turned to her sightless littermate.
“How’s training going?” she asked awkwardly.
Featherpaw narrowed her cloudy blue eyes with amusement. “You mean, how am I able to cope with being a blind apprentice?” She silenced Poppykit’s protest with a flick of her tail. “Nettledrift’s real patient with me.”
Badgerpaw looked up from his mouthful of shrew. “That’s good.”
Paw steps sounded nearby. Poppypaw’s head whipped around. Swiftpaw and Moosepaw were standing nearby, eyeing the fresh-kill pile. Moosepaw barged forward to grab a frog, pushing Featherpaw aside.
“Shove off, Blindkit,” he hissed. Featherpaw dug her claws into the ground, her pale gray tabby fur bristling.
“Flea-pelt!” she spat. Poppypaw tapped her tail nervously on her sister’s shoulder.
“Don’t fight,” she murmured. Featherpaw faced her with bristling fur.
“Moosepaw just likes to get under other cats’ pelts,” Poppypaw went on. “Come on.” She wrapped her tail around her sister’s shoulders and guided her away from the jeering apprentice. Badgerpaw and Brackenpaw had finished their shrew and were looking on worriedly.
Poppypaw stopped and sighed. How will we ever be welcome in the apprentices’ den?










Chapter 3

Poppypaw crouched, her paws planted firmly on the pine needles. Her alert green eyes swept the bracken, ears pricked for any noise besides the gentle breeze that rocked ShadowClan territory. Tucking her forepaws under her shoulders, she pressed her belly to the ground and took a step forward, proud of the way her paws made no sound on the blanket of needles.
She stalked further forward until a clump of bracken rustled and Leopardheart emerged. “Well done,” she meowed. Poppypaw sat up from her hunting crouch with a purr. The hunting lesson with Leopardheart was going well, and Brackenpaw and Whiskerwind had come along, too.
Whiskerwind was watching Brackenpaw’s crouch. “Not bad,” he mewed. “But try spreading your weight more evenly on your paws.” Brackenpaw shifted, his crouch more controlled as he prowled forward.
Poppypaw glanced at Leopardheart. “Can we try to catch real prey?”
Her mentor glanced at Whiskerwind with questioning amber eyes. Whiskerwind gave her a nod.
“Alright,” Leopardheart replied. “But don’t expect to catch anything so early on in your training.”
Her words had gone right over Poppypaw’s head. She set off in a slow stalk, her jaws parted to scent the air. She gracefully cleared the fallen pine tree, but froze as tiny feet scrabbled beneath the trunk. Mouse-scent flooded over her as the little brown creature poked its nose out from the dip beneath the pine, its nostrils flaring.
Poppypaw dropped even lower and began pulling herself forward, smooth as a snake, just as she had been practicing. The mouse still had no idea that it was being tracked; it scuffled its feet in the soil, putting its nose to the earth with tiny snuffling sounds. Poppypaw was thankful for the pine needles that muffled the sound of her paw steps.
She pounced, paws outstretched. At the last moment, the mouse glanced up and darted away in terror. Poppypaw chased it for a fox-length but managed to pin a paw across its tail and kill it with a swift blow.
Leopardheart, Whiskerwind, and Brackenpaw emerged from the brambles behind her. “That was a great catch!” Brackenpaw burst out, his eyes shining. Whiskerwind nodded agreement, and Leopardheart tracked her tail down Poppypaw’s flank.
“I didn’t expect you to catch something on your first try,” she admitted. “But you did brilliantly.”
Poppypaw glowed at her mentor’s praise as she carried her mouse back to camp. As she dropped it onto the fresh-kill pile, Badgerpaw approached.
“Is that your first catch?” he breathed. When Poppypaw nodded, he looked impressed. She shrugged humbly.
“It was a slow mouse.” Poppypaw licked a paw and rubbed it over her ear. Flamefoot called to Badgerpaw, and her brother padded away.
Poppypaw thought about practicing her hunter’s crouch, but she wanted to sort out her nest in the apprentices’ den so she knew where to sleep. She poked her nose into the den to see Honeypaw inside, grooming herself.
As Poppypaw began poking around looking for a nest, Honeypaw raised her head and motioned with her tail. “You can use Whitefrost’s old nest.” Poppypaw located the moss by scent and settled down. It felt comfortable and soft. She let out a soft sigh, intending to steal a quick nap before dusk.
However, the prospect of falling asleep was ruined as Juniperpaw and Swiftpaw came bounding into the apprentices’ den, smelling of fresh pines and crushed ferns. They were both chattering like starlings.
“I totally got you with that feint,” Juniperpaw crowed, flicking the tip of his tail towards Swiftpaw’s face.
“But you weren’t ready when I struck back,” Swiftpaw retorted.
Poppypaw groaned and shoved her paws in her ears, but it did nothing but blur the sound into an annoying hum. She rose and stretched, her russet, black, and white tail quivering. Juniperpaw and Swiftpaw were sitting up in their nests, still murmuring to each other. Poppypaw pushed her way from the den to face the early evening sun. Her stomach rumbled, reminding her that she hadn’t eaten since before her training session. She picked out a plump squirrel and settled down to eat it.
Featherpaw approached her, sniffing at the squirrel. “Can we share that?”
“Sure.” Poppypaw rolled over onto her back, draping her forepaws across her stomach. “I’m full, anyways.” She had already eaten half of the squirrel, and the creature was a large, plump one.
Featherpaw began to eat with swift, neat mouthfuls. There was still some squirrel left afterwards, but both littermates were too full to stomach another bite.
“Let’s just leave it,” Poppypaw suggested. “Some other cat will come along and eat it.”
Featherpaw nodded agreement. “I’m tired after traipsing around the territory. I’m going to take a nap.”
Poppypaw thought back to when she had tried to take a nap. “Juniperpaw and Swiftpaw are still in the den,” she warned. Featherpaw shrugged, but Poppypaw guessed that she was less indifferent than she liked to pretend.
Poppypaw stretched, flexing her shoulders and toes luxuriously. Still full of pride after her catch earlier that morning, she began stalking noiselessly across the clearing; she felt proud of the way she set her paws on the dusty clearing.
“That’s a great bit of stalking,” a voice behind her mewed. Startled, Poppypaw’s legs slithered out from under her, and she flopped ungracefully onto the soil.
“Sorry if I surprised you.” Poppypaw lifted her head to see Swiftpaw beside her. The pale gray tom nudged her to her paws, his blue eyes glowing.
This startled Poppypaw more than Swiftpaw’s sudden intrusion. “Th-thanks,” she managed to meow.
Swiftpaw trained his gaze on his paws, glancing up quickly for a moment. “Creekfur is taking me out training soon. Do you want to ask Leopardheart if you can come with us?”
“Sure,” Poppypaw meowed. Leopardheart was at the fresh-kill pile, sharing a frog with Reedtail. As Poppypaw approached, her mentor raised her head.
“Do you need something, Poppypaw?”
“I was wondering if I could train with Creekfur and Swiftpaw.”
Amusement glimmered in Leopardheart’s eyes. “Okay.”
“Thanks!” But as Poppypaw withdrew from the fresh-kill pile, she felt confused. What was so funny about that?
Poppypaw shrugged and returned to where Swiftpaw was waiting near the camp entrance. “I can come with,” she meowed.
“Great!” Swiftpaw exclaimed loudly, and immediately looked embarrassed. Creekfur was already at the training ground as the two apprentices ran into the sandy clearing.
“There you are.” The dark-furred warrior rose to his paws. His eyes narrowed as he spotted Poppypaw. “Why is she here?”
Poppypaw drew breath to explain, but Swiftpaw perturbed her efforts. “I asked her to come and train with us,” he admitted. “Her mentor said it was fine, but I guess I should’ve asked you first.”
Creekfur dismissed the issue with a flick of his tail. “No, that’s fine. It’ll do her good.” He began to slowly pace the clearing, his tail waving from side to side. “Today I’ll teach you some offensive tactics that are ideal for smaller cats like you who are facing bigger enemies.” He paused and trained his gaze on Swiftpaw. “Would you like to try the leap-and-hold in Poppypaw?”
Swiftpaw dropped into an attack crouch, his tail lashing, but his eyes gleamed playfully. “I’m going to shred you!” he trilled.
“You can try!” Poppypaw retorted. Swiftpaw sprang at her, his paws outstretched. The pale gray apprentice landed on her back, forcing her to the ground and pinning her with a paw on the back of her neck. Creekfur waved his tail.
“Very good. You can get off her now.” The gray-brown tom nodded to Poppypaw. “When you’re attacking a larger opponent, the leap-and-hold is a great way of inflicting major injuries, especially to the ears and face.”
Poppypaw heaved herself to her paws, shaking sand from her fur. “Can I try that on Swiftpaw?”
Creekfur nodded and stepped aside.
Both apprentices circled each other, muscles tensed. Poppypaw leapt and managed to cling to Swiftpaw’s back for a moment before he sank beneath her. She let out a triumphant meow, pinning Swiftpaw to the earth.
The tom’s muscles relaxed beneath her paws. Instinctively, Poppypaw loosened her own grip, but was unprepared as Swiftpaw shot upwards with a grunt of effort, throwing her into the bushes surrounding the clearing.
Poppypaw vigorously shook sand from her pelt. “Hey, that’s not fair!” she protested. “We weren’t talking about that move.”
Swiftpaw gave her an amused glance. “Just because we’re not talking about a battle move doesn’t mean we can’t use it.”
Creekfur stepped between the apprentices, his fur flat and eyes cool. “True, but we’re practicing the leap-and-hold.” He gave his tail the slightest twitch. “Why don’t you two try it at the same time?”
As Swiftpaw and Poppypaw crept around each other, Swiftpaw leapt first, but Poppypaw slipped beneath him and thrust her spine upwards. Swiftpaw tumbled over her in a tangle of legs and tail, giving Poppypaw ample opportunity to pin him.
“Do I win?” Poppypaw asked smugly.
“You win,” Swiftpaw mewed from beneath her. “Now get off me! You’re as heavy as a badger.”
Poppypaw danced away as Swiftpaw sat up and began to groom debris from his pelt.
From the edge of the training hollow, Creekfur nodded. “You’ve both done well. Now go back to camp and get something to eat.”
Poppypaw remained in step with Swiftpaw for a few heartbeats until she started to pull ahead. Swiftpaw put on a burst of speed, haring through the undergrowth as he dodged pine trunks.
“I’ll get you!” Poppypaw teased. She veered to the side, locating a new route with fewer obstacles to trip her up. Steadily, she pulled ahead of Swiftpaw and reached the camp entrance a moment before he did.
“Nice race!” Swiftpaw gasped as he reached her. They trotted into the clearing, casting long evening shadows behind them as the sun went down.
Swiftpaw jerked his head towards the fresh-kill pile. A rather fat frog lay on the top. “You want to share?”
“No, thanks,” Poppypaw meowed. “I already ate.”
“Oh.” Swiftpaw looked crestfallen and slightly hurt. “Okay, I’ll see you later.” He snatched the frog and settled down to eat it alone.
Honeypaw, who was washing her ears by the fresh-kill pile, padded over to Poppypaw. “You didn’t have to do that,” she mewed.
Guilt raged through Poppypaw. “But it was true! I did eat earlier.”
“Well, you could’ve at least given Swiftpaw some company.”
“Why?” Poppypaw looked bewildered, her bright green eyes widening with confusion.
Honeypaw snorted in exasperation. “Poppypaw, are you blind or deaf or both? It’s obvious that Swiftpaw likes you!”
“No, it’s not!” Poppypaw protested, but Honeypaw was already leaving, the tip of her tail twitching back and forth. The pale ginger apprentice murmured a few words to Swiftpaw, who was finishing his frog, and then disappeared inside the apprentices’ den for the night.
Poppypaw followed her and found her nest in the rapidly darkening den. It still smelled faintly of Whitefrost. She shoved her nose under her paws and curled her tail around her haunches, her eyelids fluttering for a moment before finally closing. Poppypaw felt soothed by the soft murmurs of faraway crickets and a breeze that lovingly stroked the branches of the apprentices’ den. Despite thoughts that whirled through her head like angry bees, Poppypaw felt sleep wash over her already weary mind.



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TUNNEL SNAKES RULE
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